When you think of mental block, you might envision sleepless writers scoffing their typewriter or tortured painters pacing at a blank canvas. But these kinds of psychological blocks aren't just reserved for the stumped artist.
Mental blocks can plague any professional's brain due to decision paralysis, a lack of motivation, an overwhelming workload, or pesky imposter syndrome. Many professionals depend on creative thinking to produce their best work, and when left unchecked, these blockages can seriously stagnate productivity and leave even the hardest workers at a dead-end (the proverbial blank canvas if you will).
Maybe you're stuck on an important project no matter how many times you go over it, or are beginning to feel like a total fraud at work because even simple tasks are suddenly harder than they should be.. Mental blocks can feel insurmountable when you're in the throes of a slump, but the good news is there are real ways to overcome them (and avoid mental blocks from taking hold in the future).
In this blog post, we're going to go over the top causes of mental block and walk through 8 practical tips to regain your productivity and protect your brain from future recurrences.
You might be wondering, what exactly is a mental block? Mental block is when you feel obstructed in your thinking and problem solving abilities. This is also known as brain block, creative block, cognitive block, or psychological block. You might be surprised that whether you're trying to write an impactful blog post, fix a complicated bug, develop an effective marketing strategy, or build out a powerful investor pitch deck -- you're applying creative thinking to be innovative, solve problems, and effectively brainstorm ideas.
When those 'creative juices' aren't flowing, you might find yourself staring at a blank screen as the hours pass by, struggling to focus on even basic daily tasks, or suddenly feel like you have no idea what you're doing. These are all symptoms of brain block and can affect anyone. So if you've been feeling stuck, uninspired, or unable to make progress -- these top causes of mental block might be to blame.
- Decision paralysis that makes choosing what to work too overwhelming.
- Mental exhaustion due to prolonged periods of cognitive overload or stress.
- Procrastination on important tasks that then turn into a source of stress.
- Perfectionism caused by a fear of underachieving or failing at work.
- Clutter or disorganization leading to increased levels of stress and anxiety.
- Lack of motivation from ineffective goal planning or low job satisfaction.
- Imposter syndrome about yourself and your capabilities.
- Unhealthy habits like bad sleep hygiene, poor diet, or substance use.
- External factors like medication side effects, socio-political stressors, or personal challenges.
If you're currently struggling with a brain block, or the above causes are hitting a little too close to home -- here are 8 ways to overcome mental block so you can get back on track and prevent them from derailing your progress in the future.
When your mental block is caused by an overwhelming workload or decision paralysis about where to begin, breaking down those huge projects into smaller steps can help make it more manageable.
Instead of trying to accomplish the whole task at once, try setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound) daily goals ahead of time. Breaking down and planning out your workload can help you make consistent progress towards big picture end-goals.
When it comes to maximizing your productivity, waiting for that perfect "inspiration to strike" is one of the worst things you can do. This can lead to procrastinating on important tasks, time anxiety to finish your work before a deadline, and feelings of self-doubt when that elusive inspiration doesn't ever 'strike'.
Like anything, creative thinking can be practiced and strengthened. For example, research has found that writers who made a habit of writing showed the highest level of creativity. Dedicating time in their routine to just write not only increased their overall performance, but also increased creative thinking on future projects. You can use a productivity tool like Reclaim.ai to block time for your regular Habits and routines around your evolving schedule to automate this process for you. Whether you're writing creative content or coding new features -- consistency over perfection is the key to long-term success.
Defending time for your important habits is a great start -- but you can optimize your time even further by time blocking all of your priorities in your calendar. Time blocking is the habit of scheduling 'blocks' of time in your calendar dedicated to a single task and can boost your productivity up to 80%.
Time blocking helps to reduce mental block in a few ways:
- Clearly planning your to-dos around your availability to reduce decision paralysis.
- Defending time in your calendar for productive deep work sessions to work on cognitively demanding tasks, or your priority habits.
- Allowing you to reflect on what you do (and do not) have time for to reduce getting overrun by pointless meetings or outside requests you take on every week.
- Reduce interruptions by creating transparency around your availability so others can see when you're busy.
Having a cluttered and disorganized workspace can actually cause stress and lead to mental blocks. Psychologically, seeing visual reminders of disorganization (like a messy desk or crowded desktop!) can actually drain your cognitive resources and compromise your ability to focus.
Set aside time to tidy up your desk at the end of the day, and/or time block a weekly deep-clean habit to organize your physical space and go through your inbox, drives, and desktop. That way you can work more efficiently by knowing where everything is, and enjoy a visually clear work environment to focus on the important things at hand.
An astounding 78.7% of professionals deal with stress at work due to increasing workloads and even less time to get it all done every week. And the consequences of stress go beyond just wrecked productivity in the workplace. High levels of stress are harmful to your mental and physical health, and are a common cause of cognitive blocks due to fatigue and anxiety.
While you can't control which challenges the workweek is going to throw at you, you can work on setting better boundaries around your availability. This includes not constantly having to work late so you can decompress and rest in your personal time, and learning to say "no" to meetings or tasks you don't have the time or bandwidth for. Try prioritizing your tasks to ensure you're using your limited time most effectively. You'll also thank yourself for making time for movement and healthy meals where you can, and trying to incorporate mindfulness into your daily morning routine to start the day off with a positive mindset.
Ever feel like a complete fraud, or totally incapable or unable to handle your responsibilities? Stress, anxiety, and overwhelm at work can manifest into imposter syndrome -- causing crippling insecurity and self-doubt.
Over 80% of adults experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. And those (untrue) thoughts can sound very convincing when you're already struggling through a stubborn mental block. That's why taking the time to celebrate yourself and your successes every day is key to getting through bad weeks. Consider keeping a record of your daily victories and positive feedback from your manager or team to look back on, or try practicing positive affirmations to keep negative thoughts from taking over your self-talk in the future. You got this.
Mental block can also be a symptom of bigger issues, like mental exhaustion or job burnout. If you're running on fumes from extended periods of high-stress, are overrun by overwhelming personal issues, or are at the point of burnout because you aren't inspired by your work or feel underappreciated by your team -- your mental block is probably a result of cognitive overload.
When your brain is working to process too much for too long, it can actually stop functioning effectively. Taking regular breaks during the day, not overworking every week, prioritizing rest on off-days, and actually taking the vacation time you need is foundational to both a healthy work-life balance and your work performance. And sometimes stepping away from your work and coming back with a fresh set of eyes is what makes all the difference.
You are not alone in dealing with mental blocks, and if you're currently struggling -- it's always a good idea to reach out for help.
That can look like confiding in friends and family so you're not keeping your stress bottled up, or letting your manager or supervisor in on your challenges so they can better support you. If the situation becomes overwhelming or unmanageable, a mental health professional can be a great resource to work through more complex causes and help you learn how to remove mental blocks that keep you stuck.
Mental blocks can make you feel like you're barely keeping your head above water, but you can get through a creative rut and avoid falling into the trap of cognitive blocks in the future.
These tips are simple and effective ways to reduce stress, optimize workflows, and improve your routines both today and long-term. Try incorporating one of these new habits to your lifestyle at a time to progressively create sustainable changes that maximize your weekly productivity and support you on those off weeks -- which happen to the best of us!
Have a tip on overcoming mental block that we missed? We'd love to hear. Tweet us @reclaimai to share!